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Dr. Alison Parken of Cardiff University talks about the WAVE Equal Pay Barometer; the new digital tool taking the temperature on occupational segregation and gender pay equality in Wales

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Dr. Alison Parken is a Senior Research Fellow at Cardiff University’s School of Social Sciences. She’s involved in research to help build an evidence base for promoting socio-economic equality through policy-making and changes in organisational practices. Since 2012, Alison has directed the research strand (Strand 1) of the £1.1m, three-year, EU-funded WAVE project (Women Adding Value to the Economy). 

Dr Alison Parken
Dr Alison Parken

“…Our analysis showed that four out of five people in Wales worked in occupations dominated by one gender or the other. More importantly it showed that men were more likely to work full-time in higher paying sectors, while women were concentrated in fields characterised by low pay and part-time hours…” 

WAVE (Women Adding Value to the Economy): Project aims

The research strand of WAVE aims to tackle the gender pay gap by gathering and analysing evidence to help policy-makers, employers and others understand and ‘interrupt’ the ways in which gender pay inequalities are consistently reproduced.

It examines how pay gaps occur through occupational segregation in employment and self-employment, through the ways in which ‘women’s work’ is contracted and through the operation of pay systems. Whole economy figures on gender pay gaps mask different patterns of inequality in sectors, industries and workplaces so where gendered patterns of employment and pay gaps can vary enormously.

Cardiff University is working with employers to gather this data and consider what changes employers can make themselves, so that these patterns don’t continue to be reproduced in successive generations. Other strands of WAVE directly support women through learning, networking and mentoring to enter, and progress within, higher-earning parts of the economy, including self-employment and specific occupations such as construction and ICT.

The WAVE Equal Pay Barometer (EPB) and how it works

The Equal Pay Barometer (EPB) is a simple, fun online tool that encourages and enables all kinds of people to engage with the whole issue of gender pay equality by checking out what they, their friends, family and associates might be earning in different job types.

It is based on Office of National Statistics (ONS) labour market figures which show the gender breakdown of more than three hundred occupations in Wales and how this correlates with pay levels in those occupations. Moreover it shows whether these workers work full or part time and how that impacts on pay.

All users have to do is enter the name of the occupation they want analysed and the EPB will instantly present easy-to-read graphics showing who earns what in the different walks of life, and will display the percentage gender pay gap for that job type. Not surprisingly, it shows male-dominated occupations paying significantly more than heavily ‘feminised’ occupations. At one level it’s an interesting bit of fun but underlying that is the very serious purpose of getting people to think about this issue and talk about it.


It resulted from our ambition to do more than publish our analysis of occupational segregation in the Welsh labour in academic journals or research reports. We want to get everyone talking about pay, low pay and equal pay.

Our analysis showed that four out of five people in Wales worked in occupations dominated by one gender or the other. More importantly it showed that men were more likely to work full-time in higher paying sectors, while women were concentrated in fields characterised by low pay and part-time hours. We felt the best way to bring this to attention was to create the Barometer – hosted on the WAVE website http://www.wavewales.co.uk/equal-pay-barometer/ – so anyone could see quickly and easily what we were talking about.

Who it’s for

The great thing about the Equal Pay Barometer is that it is for everyone, from job hunters to public policymakers.

Students leaving school, college or university, and those who advise them, can use it to check which careers are likely to yield the best financial rewards, people already at work can use the information to think about new career choices or re-entering education, employers can use it to see where they might be falling short on pay equality and various decision-makers can use it to access evidence to help them shape policy.

However the Barometer has got a life of its own, so many more categories of people – men and women – will no doubt be finding a variety of uses for it.

Response since launch

It’s certainly stimulated debate in Wales and further afield. In fact, we’ve started discussing a UK version with partners, which would add greater coverage and a finer level of detail. But that’s for the future, for now we’re concentrating on stimulating debates about low pay and equal pay through print, broadcast and online media – including of course social media – and events on the ground involving interested parties.

We started with a soft launch in the summer, when we posted the tool on the WAVE website for testing, and followed up with a high-profile media launch in September. Since then it’s been gathering pace as more people use it and talk about it. We’re very eager to hear what people think and to encourage them to share their views with their own networks in Wales and across the UK.

Equal Pay Barometer: Next steps

The Equal Pay Barometer of course is only one part of a much wider research exercise within the overall WAVE project. The School of Sciences at Cardiff University is working directly with a number of employers to analyse their workforce data on pay, occupation, job, grade and employment type (full-time/part-time).

Following this, new, fairer and more efficient ways of organising work will be tested; for example, finding improvements to the ‘default’ use of low hours part time contracts in caring, cleaning, clerical jobs – jobs traditionally viewed as ‘women’s work’.

We aim to outline our findings and provide a tool for employers to be able to replicate our gender pay disparities analysis method themselves in 2015.